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South Ozone Park Sikh shot at while driving cab

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Jolly Surinder Singh, a 40-year-old Sikh from South Ozone Park, was shot at while driving his yellow taxi cab in Midtown Manhattan Sept. 30.

A single bullet shot from a car that quickly sped away whizzed through his driver’s side window, grazing Singh’s jacket before it exited through the open passenger’s window. The immigrant from India, who has been driving taxis in New York City since 1986, said he was facing west on East 57th Street between Second and Third avenues when his cab was hit.

He had just leaned back to talk to a woman passenger when the shot was fired through his window, a move Singh believes saved his life. “The bullet touched my jacket,” Singh said. “I felt my body vibrate. It went right in front of my face.”

Singh’s passenger immediately bolted out of the cab. “She opened the door and left,” he said.

    The veteran taxi driver called the police, who arrived within five to six minutes. He filed a police report, but police officials did not return calls seeking comment on the investigation.

Singh believes he was the victim of a continuing wave of violence directed towards Sikhs since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In Queens, Sikhs have paid a price for their physical resemblance to members of the Taliban, who control most of Afghanistan and are harboring Osama bin Laden. Like the Taliban followers, Sikhs wear turbans and grow long beards.

Since the acts of terrorism in the United States, there have been at least nine bias incidents involving Sikhs in Queens, according to a Sikh anti-defamation league. Most of those were in Richmond Hill, where community groups estimate Sikhs account for as much as 30 percent of the population.

Around the nation, more than 240 bias incidents involving Sikhs have been reported, including the murder of a Mesa, Ariz. gas station owner.

Even before he was the target of violence, Singh was singled out because of his beard and turban. “That same week somebody came into my car and said a bad word and called me Osama bin Laden,” he said. “Another lady opened the door, saw me, said, ‘Oh my gosh, never mind,’ and closed the door.”

Singh said he is losing two to three fares a day because of his appearance. “They see a turban and they don’t get in.”

Singh said that like all Americans, he was shocked by the events of Sept. 11. “I pray two times a day for the peace of the people who died,” he said. He said he was displaying three American flags on his taxi at the time of the attack. He now plans to add a bumper sticker that reads “Proud to be an American and a Sikh.”

Despite the verbal attacks and the assault on his life, Singh, who has three school-aged children, continues to drive the streets of New York City each night from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. The day after he was shot at, he got his cab repaired and returned to the road.

His said his wife calls him every 15 to 20 minutes and his children worry about him constantly, but he has to make a living.

“I use precaution. I watch both sides,” he said. “I watch all over.”

Reach Reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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